Anonymous said: There's an idea I've been trying to work through, I'm wondering if you have any input or if you think it's relevant. A lot of people ask about things (say, feathers) that aren't necessarily automatically referencing Native Americans, and if that's still appropriating. I had this question, but then when I looked to find ONE feathery-fashion that wasn't referencing Natives, I couldn't. When we see feathers in a fashion shoot, it's almost always correlated to "Tribal Trend!" or whatever. (First thought: pheasant hats that old ladies wear. That's basically all I got.) Then I saw this picture http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_22VYE3ewUkw/S9PC-geqk0I/AAAAAAAADJE/n6sujWHp13M/s1600/100402vman6.jpg . I thought about how, in the right art direction, that headpiece wouldn't necessarily reference a Native style (from what I can tell). There are a lot of pieces out there like that--like that "diy multimedia" necklace you showed. If I just saw that on a person or in a fashion shoot where the theme wasn't "natives" or "savage" or "nature" or "tribal" or "noble" (I could go on), I might not see it as "Native." The thing is, it's never in that context. NEVER. We never put a feather necklace on a regular-old Valentino dress and just call it "pretty" or "neat-looking." It seems like, in fashion, if there's a feather (fringe, many types of semi-precious stones, et cetera) on it we automatically photograph the model in the desert or the forest. And people talk a lotta talk about how we just think it's "pretty." If we thought it was pretty, wouldn't we wear it with a regular shirt and a pair of heels, like we wear every other piece of jewelry we think is pretty? Or would we paint our faces, show our boobs, go barefoot, look Nobily out into the sunset, and pretend like we too dumb for good english? That picture I linked to: with that almost-ambiguous headpiece a button-up shirt, they could have made the aesthetic consideration to frame and conceptualize that look differently--maybe saying "girl who likes to wear black" or something. Then they could claim that they just "liked the way it looked." Instead, they had to reference a wounded warrior and (of course) show her boobs a little to show how "natural" and "savage" she is. I don't know if there's a framework to help explain what I'm trying to say (but I'd like to look for one). There's just a constant assertion of the idea that "It's just aesthetics" while at the same time a complete Othering of those aesthetics: never can "Native" aesthetics really stand on their own without being either closely associated with other "Native-looking" things or Native gimmicks (tipis, fires, trees, deserts, warriors, whatever). When this happens, it is not creative borrowing, it is always always caricature.
I agree completely. The context is almost always worse than the actual garment being worn. It’s the ideas that are the problem - the regalia etc just makes it easier to spot and expose.